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Cuba: 509 Years of the First City

Cuba, full of nature and heritage, is home to unique sites, many of which are linked to the country's history.

In the eastern Cuban province of Guantanamo, one of those places appears under the original name of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa, a village founded in 1511 by Conqueror Diego Velázquez, and which also became the first capital and first bishopric in Cuba.

With numerous cultural and historic values, the 509-year-old city's name comes from an aboriginal word that means "presence of the sea", a frank allusion by its original inhabitants to a presence of a marine environment everywhere, in contrast with the mountains and rivers.

The town of Our Lady of Assumption was founded on August 15, 1511, a day when the so-called Santa Cruz de la Parra was erected at the entrance of the bay, the only one existing today of 29 crosses placed by Christopher Columbus in the Hispanic world and the most valuable treasure kept by the local Parish.

The natural landscape is complemented by a flattened mountain that is 575 meters high and is known as the Yunque de Baracoa (Baracoa's Anvil), due to its similarity to that tool used by blacksmiths for their work.

Likewise, several rivers run through the territory, including the Toa -which is considered the largest river in Cuba-, marked in its passage by numerous waterfalls, the most famous of which is known as El Saltadero, which is 17 meters high.

Yunque de Baracoa (Baracoa`s Anvil)
Baracoa Mountains.
River and mountains in Baracoa.

Access to the city itself constitutes an adventure as it takes place along a very peculiar road that winds through the mountains and responds to the name of La Farola - one of the Seven Wonders of Cuban Civil Engineering - with 11 hanging bridges and the most relevant point in Altos de Cotilla, more than 600 meters above sea level.

The capital of cacao and coconut is also called the Landscape City and City of Waters, due to its marine environment, vegetation, as well as having the rainiest area in Cuba in Cuchillas del Toa.

The Spanish rule left its traces in the constructions of the town, where numerous buildings were constructed with quarry stone, such as the colonial fortresses of El Castillo and La Punta, and the towers of Joa and the Cemetery.

It is worth noting that the city also contains a very peculiar gastronomy based on plants, with dishes such as Bacán, a kind of green banana tamale, ajiaco or fish cooked with coconut milk.

Meanwhile, dessert lovers also have their place with the Cucurucho, packed conically in yagua leaves and containing coconut and pineapple in its composition, as well as the famous chocolate made with cocoa grown in the territory.

The local fauna shows a high level of endemism, with unique species such as the almiquí, a living fossil in critical danger of extinction.

In addition, there are mollusks such as Polymita picta (which due to its chromatic variety is considered the most beautiful snail on Earth) and other invertebrates such as Centruroides anchorellus and Rophalurus junceus, two scorpions of conservative and biomedical importance.

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